The De Casteljau Algorithm for Evaluating Bezier Curves

Over the past year or so I’ve been digging fairly deeply into curves, mostly into Bezier curves specifically.

While digging around, I’ve found many mentions of the De Casteljau algorithm for evaluating Bezier curves, but never much in the way of a formal definition of what the algorithm actually is, or practical examples of it working.

Now that I understand the De Casteljau algorithm, I want to share it with you folks, and help there be more useful google search results for it.

The De Casteljau algorithm is more numerically stable than evaluating Bernstein polynomials, but it is slower. Which method of evaluating Bezier curves is more appropriate is based on your specific usage case, so it’s important to know both.

If you are looking for the mathematical equation of a Bezier curve (the Bernstein form which uses Bernstein basis functions), you have come to the right place, but the wrong page! You can find that information here: Easy Binomial Expansion & Bezier Curve Formulas

Onto the algorithm!

The De Casteljau Algorithm

The De Casteljau algorithm is actually pretty simple. If you know how to do a linear interpolation between two values, you have basically everything you need to be able to do this thing.

In short, the algorithm to evaluate a Bezier curve of any order N is to just linearly interpolate between two curves of degree N-1. Below are some examples to help show some details.

The simplest version of a Bezier curve is a linear curve, which has a degree of 1. It is just a linear interpolation between two points A and B at time t, where t is a value from 0 to 1. When t has a value of 0, you will get point A. When t has a value of 1, you will get point B. For values of t between 0 and 1, you will get points along the line between A and B.

The equation for this is super simple and something you’ve probably seen before: P(t) = A*(1-t) + B*t.

The next simplest version of a Bezier curve is a quadratic curve, which has a degree of 2 and control points A,B,C. A quadratic curve is just a linear interpolation between two curves of degree 1 (aka linear curves). Specifically, you take a linear interpolation between A,B, and a linear interpolation between B,C, and then take a linear interpolation between those two results. That will give you your quadratic curve.

The next version is a cubic curve which has a degree of 3 and control points A,B,C,D. A cubic curve is just a linear interpolation between two quadratic curves. Specifically, the first quadratic curve is defined by control points A,B,C and the second quadratic curve is defined by control points B,C,D.

The next version is a quartic curve, which has a degree of 4 and control points A,B,C,D,E. A quartic curve is just a linear interpolation between two cubic curves. The first cubic curve is defined by control points A,B,C,D and the second cubic curve is defined by control points B,C,D,E.

So yeah, an order N Bezier curve is made by linear interpolating between two Bezier curves of order N-1.

Redundancies

While simple, the De Casteljau has some redundancies in it, which is the reason that it is usually slower to calculate than the Bernstein form. The diagram below shows how a quartic curve with control points A,B,C,D,E is calculated via the De Casteljau algorithm.

Compare that to the Bernstein form (where s is just (1-t))

P(t) = A*s^4 + B*4s^3t + C*6s^2t^2 + D*4st^3 + E*t^4

The Bernstein form removes the redundancies and gives you the values you want with the least amount of moving parts, but it comes at the cost of math operations that can give you less precision in practice, versus the tree of lerps (linear interpolations).

Sample Code

Pretty animations and intuitive explanations are all well and good, but here’s some C++ code to help really drive home how simple this is.

#include <stdio.h>

void WaitForEnter()
{
    printf("Press Enter to quit");
    fflush(stdin);
    getchar();
}

float mix(float a, float b, float t)
{
    // degree 1
    return a * (1.0f - t) + b*t;
}

float BezierQuadratic(float A, float B, float C, float t)
{
    // degree 2
    float AB = mix(A, B, t);
    float BC = mix(B, C, t);
    return mix(AB, BC, t);
}

float BezierCubic(float A, float B, float C, float D, float t)
{
    // degree 3
    float ABC = BezierQuadratic(A, B, C, t);
    float BCD = BezierQuadratic(B, C, D, t);
    return mix(ABC, BCD, t);
}

float BezierQuartic(float A, float B, float C, float D, float E, float t)
{
    // degree 4
    float ABCD = BezierCubic(A, B, C, D, t);
    float BCDE = BezierCubic(B, C, D, E, t);
    return mix(ABCD, BCDE, t);
}

float BezierQuintic(float A, float B, float C, float D, float E, float F, float t)
{
    // degree 5
    float ABCDE = BezierQuartic(A, B, C, D, E, t);
    float BCDEF = BezierQuartic(B, C, D, E, F, t);
    return mix(ABCDE, BCDEF, t);
}

float BezierSextic(float A, float B, float C, float D, float E, float F, float G, float t)
{
    // degree 6
    float ABCDEF = BezierQuintic(A, B, C, D, E, F, t);
    float BCDEFG = BezierQuintic(B, C, D, E, F, G, t);
    return mix(ABCDEF, BCDEFG, t);
}

int main(int argc, char **argv)
{
    struct SPoint
    {
        float x;
        float y;
    };

    SPoint controlPoints[7] =
    {
        { 0.0f, 1.1f },
        { 2.0f, 8.3f },
        { 0.5f, 6.5f },
        { 5.1f, 4.7f },
        { 3.3f, 3.1f },
        { 1.4f, 7.5f },
        { 2.1f, 0.0f },
    };

    //calculate some points on a sextic curve!
    const float c_numPoints = 10;
    for (int i = 0; i < c_numPoints; ++i)
    {
        float t = ((float)i) / (float(c_numPoints - 1));
        SPoint p;
        p.x = BezierSextic(controlPoints[0].x, controlPoints[1].x, controlPoints[2].x, controlPoints[3].x, controlPoints[4].x, controlPoints[5].x, controlPoints[6].x, t);
        p.y = BezierSextic(controlPoints[0].y, controlPoints[1].y, controlPoints[2].y, controlPoints[3].y, controlPoints[4].y, controlPoints[5].y, controlPoints[6].y, t);
        printf("point at time %0.2f = (%0.2f, %0.2f)\n", t, p.x, p.y);
    }

    WaitForEnter();
}

Here’s the output of the program:

Thanks to wikipedia for the awesome Bezier animations! Wikipedia: B├ęzier curve

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About Demofox

I'm a game and engine programmer at Blizzard Entertainment and have been making games since 1990 (starting out with QBasic and TI-85 games) My shipped titles include: * Heroes of the Storm * StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm & Legacy of the void * Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (PC) * Gotham City Impostors (PC, 360, PS3) * Line Rider (PC, Wii, DS) I also like hiking, making music, learning cool new stuff and attempting the impossible.